Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, pauses during the India Canada Business Session in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government made it clear that they would protect the rights of home growers, medical marijuana patients, and cannabis businesses when they shot down 13 of Senate’s proposed amendments to the Cannabis Act.
This week, Canada’s federal government responded to the Senate’s 46 proposed amendments to Bill C-45. Also known as the Cannabis Act, the legislation will nationally legalize recreational cannabis for adult use and establish the country as a global leader in cannabis reform.
One of the most significant amendments to the bill would allow provinces the right to enforce their own laws around home cannabis cultivation. The provincial government’s Quebec and Manitoba have already expressed a desire to ban home-growing (which would be possible under this amendment), citing difficulties in policing limits on the amount of plants Canadians can grow.
But yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government made it clear that they would reject this highly contentious amendment, expressing a desire to align the country as a whole with expert opinions on home-grow rights and their importance to public health and safety.
“We’re making the changes to keep Canadians safe and one of the strong recommendations by experts was that we ensure personal cultivation of four plants at home,” Trudeau said in a statement to the press. “We have heard what the senators had to say on this matter, but we will go ahead with the recommendations from experts.”
Quebec’s Health Minister, Lucie Charlebois, vowed to wage a legal battle against any attempts to interfere with their provincial government’s wishes on home-grow legislation. But as Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said in the past, even if the province did implement a home-grow ban, it would almost inevitably be challenged in court, in which case “the federal law will prevail.” In other words, it would be nearly impossible for provinces to stray from the federal government’s desire to allow home-grows, with or without the Senate’s amendment in the final legislation.
In all, Canada’s federal government says that it will accept 26 of the Senate’s 46 proposed amendments to the Cannabis Act.
Yesterday, the House issued an order paper that gives specific reasons as to why it “respectfully disagrees” with 13 of these amendments. Aside from the home-grow ban, the government says it disagrees with amendments such as a proposed ban the distribution of branded merchandise colloquially known as the “swag ban,” and one that would allow regulators to set a maximum level of potency for legal cannabis products.
Here’s a look at some of the amendments that the federal government has chosen to reject.
This amendment would prevent cannabis companies from distributing branded products, like t-shirts, that bear their company logos.
One Conservative MP, Marilyn Gladu of Sarnia-Lambton, Ontario, recently captured the sentiments behind opposition to cannabis merchandise when she claimed that many Canadians were worried that Canada Day celebrations would be overrun with “flags that have cannabis on them,” and that “everybody will have a T-shirt with cannabis on it, and it will be disgusting.”
But according to the House’s order paper, the government rejects this proposed amendment on the grounds that “the Cannabis Act already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion.”
Cannabis businesses worry that if the “Swag Ban” amendment is included in the final legislation, it will make it difficult to establish unique branding to differentiate themselves from competitors, and successfully sell their product.
This amendment would have put a limit on the potency (THC levels) that cannabis products could contain in order to legally be sold.
The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver based publication, argued that putting a cap on the potency of cannabis products could impact medical cannabis users, who may require higher dosages than the average recreational user in order to treat their condition.
The House says that it disagrees with this amendment on the grounds that “the government has already committed to establishing THC limits in regulations, which will provide flexibility to make future adjustments based on new evidence and product innovation”.
This amendment would have resulted in the creation of a public registry, where cannabis companies would be required to list any shareholders who own more than 5% of any class of shares in the company. The intention of this amendment, proposed by Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, was to prevent criminal organizations and gangs from participating in the legal recreational market.
The House says that it disagrees with this amendment “because other Senate amendments that the House is accepting would provide the Minister with expanded powers to require security clearances, and because amendments 17(a) and 25 would present significant operational challenges and privacy concerns;”.
In the following days, the House will debate and vote on how they wish to respond to the Senate’s amendments, before returning the Cannabis Act to the Senate. At that point, the Senate could choose to accept the House’s decision to reject certain amendments, pass the bill in its current state, and send it off for Royal Assent. If that happens, the bill could become law in a matter of days.
Alternatively, the Senate could choose to insist on certain amendments, at which point the two chambers (the House and Senate) would continue to battle over the wording of the final version of the cannabis act. This would further delay the legislation, though for precisely how long is anyone’s guess.
Once the bill does receive Royal Assent, the federal government is planning to wait an additional eight to 12 weeks before recreational cannabis sales begin, allowing time for the provinces to sufficiently prepare for the historic moment.